Friday, February 29, 2008

Here a shrine, there a shrine, everywhere a shrine shrine

Wednesday, Candice and I decided to do a day trip out to Kamakura. It's a seaside town and is essentially the shrine and temple capital of the world. (I made that up. But, for reals. There's like a trillion shrines and temples there.) We did such a good job buying our tickets and getting the type of train we needed and blah blah blah we're totally awesome and the smartest American girls to ever descend up on Tokyo yada yada yada.

So we arrive in Kamakura and the first destination on the list, Engaku-ji Temple, was all of about 15 yards from the station. Score. This is off to a pretty fabulous start, eh? In case you're interested, Engaku-ji is the largest of Kamakura's five great Zen temples and was founded in 1282.

This is the sanmon (main gate).

And some subtemples, as they happen to be called...

Kencho-ji was next on the list and only about 700 metres away. Double score. Things sure are going smoothly, aren't they? Kencho-ji was founded in 1253 and is the foremost of Kamakura's five great Zen temples and the oldest Zen training monastery in Japan (still in operation).

The sanmon

The butsuden (Buddha hall)

Next up was Hachiman-gu Shrine, a mere 400 yards away. Triple score. Could this get any easier?? This day is going so perfectly well!!! (You may realize at this point that I'm leading up to something. The sarcasm - it's being layed on thick.) Hachiman-gu was built by the sea in 1063 and moved to its current location in 1191. Y'all like how I'm droppin' dates like"1063", "1191", "1253" and "1282" like it's nothing?

The colors on this one were so amazingly vivid.

The unbelieveable detailing

A view from the bottom of the steps

The lotus ponds and bridges

The massive red torii (gate)

And as seen from underneath it... We were really lucky the day was so clear and the sky so blue.

After we followed our noses to an Indian restaurant for a cheap lunch, we decided to take a taxi to te next temple, Zuisen-ji because it was in a pretty secluded area and we were starting to run short on time.

We were the most excited about this one because we had read that the grounds were beautiful, there was a waterfall and that in February, the plum trees are in bloom. Sounds amazing right? In fact, this particular temple was the whole reason we chose Kamakura over other possible daytrip destinations.

Perhaps expectations were set a tad high. Granted, it is February (not exactly Mother Nature's best work) and this country would be even more amazing in the spring during cherry blossom season, but we were still excited. I mean, PLUM TREE BLOSSOMS! Doesn't that sound BEAUTIFUL?!? Sure it does. And were they beautiful, you ask? Hell if I know. Because, the blossoms? They be late this year.

Well, that's okay! We've still got the waterfall to look forward too, right?!? Wrong. Because, the waterfall? It be all dried up this year. Pfffffftttttttt.

All that said though, the walk up the many steps to the temple was still lovely...

And there was this great little Buddha statue.

Okay, this is where things start to go a little wonky. It was easy to get a taxi from the town up to the temple but I have to say that those taxis aren't exactly queuing up the side of the mountain to take us back down. We tried to work a Japanese payphone because our driver had given us a card so we could call for a pick up when we were done. The operative word in that sentence being "tried". Long story long, we found a little cafe and asked the dear woman who owned it if she would call us a taxi and she very happily did so.

Now this is where things start to go really wonky. We think we're soooo smart with our mad train skillz so we very confidently jump on this cute little electric train that runs from Kamakura down towards the sea to get to our last sight of the day - the Great Buddha. The most famous sight in Kamakura. Apparently, you ain't really been to Kamakura if you ain't seen the Great Buddha. So we're of course hell-bent on seeing the Great Buddha.

Unbeknownst to us, we happened to get on one of the express trains or something because before we know it, we're like seven stops past Hase - where the Buddha is. We get off at the next stop, see that the train going back the other way is sitting there and proceed to sprint across the tracks to get to it. Do you think we made it? Hells no. Have I mentioned that Candice is supposed to be back in Tokyo by between 5:00 and 6:00 to get ready for a dinner? Have I further mentioned that it is currently 4:35? And have I also mentioned that Kamakura is an hour away from Tokyo? Finally, have I mentioned that we have no idea what time the train leaves from Kamakura? No? This is a recipe for greatness.

However, before too long, another train comes and thankfully, stops where we need it to stop. We jump off and speed walk to the Great Buddah. And it really was pretty Great.

Huge. 44 feet tall to be exact.

And we decided that after the hell we'd been through to get there, we needed our picture taken with Mr. Great Buddah.

Oh, you thought that was the end?

It gets better. We speed walk back to Hase station to get back to Kamakura for our train to Tokyo and as we're about a block away, we see the lights start flashing and the safety arms come down to stop traffic crossing the tracks. I'd say that's a pretty sure sign the the train is freaking coming. So we run. Sprint, actually. Candice gets through the gate just as the train pulls up and I realize that my ticket is not in the pocket where it has been residing all day. I freak. I start digging in my bag. Shoving my hands into any and all pockets on my person. No ticket. I yell at Candice to "Get on that train! You have to be back! Go on without me! Seriously! I'll be fine! I'll make it back by myself!" And of course she yells back "No way! I'm not leaving you out here!" and we have this whole "never leave a soldier behind" moment.

Miraculously, the train is still sitting there. I don't know why. But I finally pull my ticket out of somewhere (I still don't remember where. I think I had a divine intervention or something and the ticket just materialized in my hand.) and shove it through the reader and we somehow made it onto that train.

Oh, you thought that was the end?

It still gets a little better. When we pull up to the station at Kamakura and get up to the platform where we need to be to get back to Tokyo, a train is arriving. We think it's ours but we're not sure because the English information on the screen is taking a long time to show up. So we hop on and ask someone if it goes to Shinjuku station. After he debated with himself for what seemed like an eternity, he decided that no, this train did not go to Shinjuku. I turn around to jump off and the door is closed behind me and there is no Candice. I still don't remember exactly what happened because I guess the panic made me blank but I got off somehow and we figured out when our train was coming.

And that, people, is indeed the end. We got back to Tokyo just fine and Candice made it to her dinner.

Jason and I are leaving tonight to go to Kyoto for the weekend so I probably won't have another chance to blog until I get home next Monday. Sayonara!


Fuji Mama said...

I'm so glad to hear you're enjoying Japan! It's addicting, isn't it?

geo said...

I'm loving these posts!!! Have lots and lots of fun. Don't forget to do some karaoke while you're there. We might need some video as well.